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SPARKies shortlist focus: Best Service Provider

Being a bit of an infographic magpie, I lost an inordinate amount of 2012 courtesy of one single Tech Crunch article into what makes a successful ecosystem for start-ups.

Traditional wisdom has it that entrepreneurs migrate to where the money is; like the proverbial bees to a honeypot. I’ve always felt this to be an over-simplification as most of the entrepreneurs that I’ve come across, whilst pragmatic and financially savvy, are rarely driven by purely financial motives. The research backs this up, concluding that a complex web of support services are what really makes a start-up hub “hum”.

So whilst the concept of a “Best Service Provider to the Tech Sector” category at the SPARKies might at first seem a bit woolly, it is in fact key to what makes the south west such a magnet for high-growth, high-tech businesses. Award sponsors FreeAgent (providers of an online accounting system for SMEs) certainly share this view and were eager to offer their support.

The Innovation Centre, headed up by Simon Bond of the University of Bath, is the first of the shortlisted entries. In addition to providing high-quality incubation space to a range of university spin-outs and external high-growth ventures, they are committed to providing a myriad of other support services. These include mentoring, a flexible co-working area and hosting of influential regional networks (including Silicon Southwest, OpenMIC and BathCamp). A true exponent of giving back to its community of customers, they are also headline sponsors of this year’s SPARKies.

A constant challenge in a historic city like Bath is the provision of modern comms systems; the lifeblood of any digital start-up. It is a challenge that Gradwell, led by founder Dr Peter Gradwell, has risen to time and time again. Stand-out examples include providing WiFi access to the Assembly Rooms for last year’s X-Media Labs conference and battling BT to install extra lines for a 60 person hack day at extremely short notice. The company continues to grow, securing ¬£1.15m in investment last year to expand their VoiP operations.

Anyone at all familiar with Bath’s tech scene will know of iPrinciples, the long-standing service provider run by founders Richard Godfrey and Paul Cross. Recognised globally for their development skills, the iPrinciples team have invested their time and energy in building a variety of local start-ups in 2012 such as TopicLogic (now CloudFind), Cognisess, Artolo and Neighbourly. They are always happy to help anyone looking to start a digital business in and around Bath and regularly give freely our time, advice and useful introductions. The team give endlessly to support the Bath Digital Festival as well as many other events across the region.

The sheer variety of services provided by these companies will surely fuel a heated debate amongst the award judges come the 20th March, with all three deserving of merit for making the southwest such a vibrant place to launch and grow.

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